PhillyDeals: As Saint-Gobain Corp. grows, its Blue Bell site will, too

John Crowe sees a "deep talent pool" in the Philadelphia area.
John Crowe sees a "deep talent pool" in the Philadelphia area.
Posted: September 21, 2011

Saint-Gobain Corp., the French conglomerate,

in August joined its Valley Forge-based manufacturing-materials arm with its building-materials group, CertainTeed, under a single boss, newly promoted John Crowe.

Sales of building materials have fallen with U.S. home construction. The company, with $7.3 billion in yearly sales in North America and 19,000 employees there, cut operations by 15 percent in 2007-09, closing small facilities such as its Malvern plastics plant.

But Saint-Gobain's factory customers (for example, Boeing, Dow, DuPont, Lockheed) "have rebounded very strongly," Crowe told me, and the company has lately been buying or opening niche-market plants at a rate of nearly one a week, including Tuesday's deal to add an Arizona mirror-assembly line to supply solar-electric power plants.

Why Arizona? Because the Southwest is where the solar-electric customers are - also because the state subsidizes solar power, which Crowe says is "appreciated and helpful to getting these started."

Most of the company's factories are in the South and West. But Crowe says he's adding people at R&D sites in Blue Bell and in Northborough, Mass. "There's a deep talent pool, especially in the Philadelphia area," Crowe said. He's boosted recruiting for engineers and business majors.


New horizons

Daniel J. Keating 3d, the contractor whose family built the Convention Center and other well-connected Philadelphia projects, also operates the polished Irish-themed bar-restaurant Tir na nOg - Land of the Young - just off LOVE Park near City Hall.

It's one of those places you can be sure there's lamb in the stew and a chalkboard listing Gaelic football finals between soccer matches on the telly. But still Center City.

Keating told me Monday that he is retiring from his day job as boss at Keating Building Corp., two years after he sold his stake in the company to Boston's Perini Corp. "I've been investing in a little technology, a little real estate, a little consulting," he told me.

One of the companies he's backing is Playhem, a San Francisco digital-games promotion outfit, which was in town Tuesday night packing Starcraft II fans into Tir na nOg in preparation for October promotions at casinos in Atlantic City.

Starcraft is the space-fighter digital war game made by Orange County, Calif.-based Blizzard Entertainment that's become fanatically popular in South Korea - fans crowd stadiums to watch favorite players - among other places.

Keating "sees this as an innovative way to bring a new demographic into his bar," Ryan DeSanto, of Playhem, told me. It's an Irish bar that caters to sports fans, and now to Asian gamers and young IT guys. All welcome, Keating says.

Hiring spree

Fiberlink, the Blue Bell-based computer connectivity and security firm that counts GE, Goldman Sachs, and TCV among its investors and AstraZeneca, Fluor Corporation, and Independence Blue Cross among its clients, has hired 25 inside sales and marketing people so far this year, and plans an additional 75 hires over the next 12 months. Fiberlink has to keep up with demand for the mobile, cloud-based version of its software, says chief financial officer Mark Partin


That would boost Fiberlink employment to 250, the most since Partin joined in 2005. "Behind the surge has been the innovation that's arrived with the proliferation of smartphones," Partin told me. Fiberlink's customer used to be the "road warrior" sales force trying to protect its dial-up data links. Now it's "an executive [who] comes to the IT guy and wants corporate e-mail on the new iPhone or Android."

A lot of tuna

Dotmenu, founded in Philadelphia in 1997 by then-Penn junior Michael Saunders when he couldn't get a proper tuna sandwich delivered during finals, has been acquired (with subsidiaries Campusfood and Allmenus) by Matt Maloney's Chicago-based GrubHub.

It's part of a $50 million investment in GrubHub by Lightspeed Ventures Partners and other big venture capital firms.

Saunders, Dotmenu's president, "is joining the GrubHub team," according to GrubHub spokeswoman Danielle Sirianni. The combined companies list menus for 12,500 restaurants in New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, and 16 other cities.

Contact columnist Joseph N. DiStefano at 215-854-5194 or Follow him @PhillyJoeD on Twitter.

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